“Quitting smoking is easy”, my father used to say. “I’ve done it 20 times”.
And so it is with weight loss. Losing is the easy part. Keeping it off.. not so much.
Losing weight is hard- so finding a reasonable plan that allows you to maintain your hard won gains is the holy grail of weight loss programs.
A new study attempted to do just that. Researchers looked at four different diets in an attempt to identify which program would have the best chance of keeping weight off.
The clear winner: a low-glycemic, higher protein diet.
Researchers looked at participants in the Diet, Obesity and Genes (Diogenes) study in Europe, a multicenter, randomized study designed to assess various for preventing weight gain. For this particular paper, researchers divided 733 people who had already lost 8% of their body weight on a very low calorie diet (800-1000 calories), into one of five diet groups.
- Low-protein/ Low-glycemic
- Low-protein / High-glycemic
- High-protein/ Low-glycemic
- High-protein/ High-glycemic
- Control group
All five diets had about the same amount of fat (25-30% of calories) and none were calorie restricted. The researchers wanted to see whether the diet programs themselves had any effect on appetite, so they didn’t limit calories and instead let people eat as much as they wanted as long as everyone stayed within the parameters of their own diet group (i.e. high-protein, low-protein, etc.)
One thing worth noting is the researchers definitions of “high protein”, “low protein” “high glycemic” and “low glycemic”. “Low protein” was 13% of calories, while “high protein” was 25%. Twenty-five percent of calories from protein is not what many people would consider “high protein”, but it is still substantially higher than the “low-protein” diet. Similarly, only 15 points on the glycemic index scale separated the “high glycemic” conditions from the “low glycemic conditions”.
Over a 26-week period, only those in the low-protein/ high-glycemic group regained significant weight (about 1.67 kg). This group was also the one with the highest dropout rate.
Meanwhile those in the high-protein, low-glycemic group actually continued to lose! (average loss about .38 kg). And those in this group were also the least likely to drop out.
“We have now shown in a very large European cohort that modifying protein levels and going slightly higher than is usually recommended in terms of protein consumption and lowering GI can help people maintain weight loss,” said lead study author Dr. Thomas Meinert Larson of the University of Copenhagen.
An accompanying editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that a number of recent studies have shown no differences in the amount of weight lost on various popular diets, though it’s worth pointing out that there a quite a number of studies- including the famous “A-Z Diet Study” at Stanford University—that had different results, namely greater amounts of weight lost on low-carb diets than on conventional ones. Nonetheless, the writers of the editorial said, “A person’s ability to maintain adherence over time may be influenced by the way in which a diet affects hunger and metabolism.”
One of the most encouraging pieces of information to come from this study is that it doesn’t take an “extreme” diet to produce benefits. This “high-protein” diet really wasn’t so high, and the glycemic load really wasn’t all that low. But merely moving in the direction of more protein and less sugar appears to have benefits even if you don’t take it to the extreme.
And if eating lower-carb, higher-protein, low-glycemic —the way I’ve been advocating for over a decade– keeps you fuller longer, keeps hunger at bay and affects metabolism in a positive way, why in the world wouldn’t you do it?